General Practice Surgeries (Training Places)

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 8 September 2016.

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Photo of Alex Cole-Hamilton Alex Cole-Hamilton Liberal Democrat

7. To ask the First Minister for what reason more than a quarter of training places in GP surgeries were not filled at the end of the 2016 recruitment round. (S5F-00163)

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

I am surprised that Alex Cole-Hamilton does not know that we are not at the end of the 2016 recruitment round yet—it is still on-going.

From the first round of advertising this year, three quarters of places have been filled so far; even at this interim stage, we have recruited 4 per cent more year 1 GP trainees than when the full recruitment process was completed last year.

This summer, a second round has started, which has advertised a further 100 places. That takes the total number of places advertised for recruitment this year to 439, which exceeds our target of advertising 400 places. This year, of course, we are also offering £20,000 bursaries for harder-to-fill places.

When we take all general practitioners in training into account—not just year 1 entrants—the current fill rate for GP training is 92 per cent.

Photo of Alex Cole-Hamilton Alex Cole-Hamilton Liberal Democrat

It is nevertheless clear from the statistics that making places available does not necessarily mean that trainees will emerge to fill them. Indeed, in the year since the Liberal Democrats started repeatedly to raise the GP crisis at First Minister

’s question time, we have lost a further 90 to the profession.

One in four patients presents to Scottish surgeries with underlying mental health conditions. Does the First Minister agree that we can relieve pressure on GPs’ practices, such as those in my Edinburgh Western constituency in particular, by stationing qualified full-time mental health practitioners—not just link workers—in every surgery in Scotland?

The First Minister:

I very much agree with Alex Cole-Hamilton: it is a statement of the obvious to say that it is not just advertising places that counts; it is a matter of filling those places with doctors. That is why I hoped that Alex Cole-Hamilton would have welcomed the fact that, at this interim stage in 2016, we are already ahead of where we were at the end of last year’s process.

There is still work to be done, but clear progress is being made.

We are taking a number of steps, including the bursary that I spoke about, to ensure that places in harder-to-fill areas are more attractive to doctors to take up.

On the wider point about relieving pressure on GPs, that is, of course, why we are working with GPs to transform primary care. We have plans in place to put 250 community link workers into GP practices. That directly addresses the point that

Alex Cole-Hamilton made about mental health support.

We also have plans to ensure that all GP practices get access to an enhanced pharmacist. We are investing in an additional 500 advanced nurse practitioners to bolster the skills of the profession, and we are looking to recruit 1,000 new paramedics to work in community settings. That will help to take the pressure off not just GPs but our accident and emergency services.

I recognise the pressure on GPs, and I thank them for the incredible work that they do. We are determined to work with them to ensure that we have a primary care system and a health service generally that are fit for the challenges of the future.